Martin Dunn, the man behind Project: A.P.E.X.

Bleeding Cool recently published an article about Project A.P.E.X, a superhero comic book publication by Con Artist Entertainment. The name may not sound familiar to you, but that’s because “Project: A.P.E.X” used to be “Project: Overwatch.”  The company recently made a deal with popular video game company Blizzard Entertainment over the title. Blizzard had a developing IP also named “Overwatch” and also dealing with superheroes. This, unsurprisingly, led to discussions between the two  companies which evidently ended with Con Artist Entertainment having to rebrand the previously-named Project: Overwatch to Project: A.P.E.X.

Florida Geek Scene caught wind of the situation and got in touch with Martin Dunn, the mastermind behind Project: A.P.E.X. The following is my interview with him.

About Martin Dunn 

Raisa Karim: Who is your favorite superhero?

Martin Dunn: Oh, you just had to start with the dirty question didn’t you? *laughs

Such a tough call for me, as I am always divided among 3 on an infinite rotating scale. I’d have to start with my darkhorse in the internal argument. Miracleman, I am probably the biggest Miracleman fan you’ll ever meet. I mean, between my insane collection of everything from the entire original Eclipse Comics run, to the Todd McFarlane, “Hellspawn” issues. I own all the available toys, statues, etc… I have a KIMOTA! tattoo for god’s sake! You could say I even have a shrine. *laughs.

The other 2 go without much thought and that is Spider-Man and Batman. The thing with those guys is that they have so much merchandise, and so many things to collect that I keep it simple. I thankfully don’t have the same instinct to buy everything I see of theirs, like I do with Miracleman.


R.K.: Do you read comics? If so, how did you get into them?

M.D.: I think it goes without saying that I would have to read comics to create them. I mean, are there comic creators who don’t? That would be really weird, not knowing the history of an industry you are working in. *laughs

Anyway, I’ve been reading comics since I was about 7. It originally started when a cousin of mine gave me a box of Spider-Man and X-Men comics. The first comic that I remember reading though was Web of Spider-Man #100, the art was by Alex Saviuk, and I actually was able to secure a page of original art from that book recently. I started buying comics pretty regularly with money I earned mowing lawns and such when I was about 12 years old, and I’ve been reading and collecting them ever since.

When I was 14, my dad came across a box of comics at a yardsale, in that box was a copy of Miracleman #2, and that was the comic that made me realize that comic books, especially superhero comics, could be so much more. The last 18 years I’ve spent trying to express that to anyone who will listen.


R.K.: What are you currently reading?

M.D.: Oh, God… So much stuff. I spend way too much money at Heroes Haven in Tampa. I love that store. I have been reading ‘Walking Dead’ since issue 1 first hit the shelves. I am caught up the craziness of Marvel’s ‘Secret Wars’ event, and have been reading almost all those titles. However, I read a lot of creator owned books. Currently, I’ve been enjoying ‘Birthright’ by Joshua Williamson quite a bit. I also am reading the latest ‘Luther Strode’ series by  Justin Jordan. Diving even deeper into the indie comics scene, I love Dirk Manning’s ‘Tales of Mr. Rhee’, and Kevin Joseph’s ‘TART’ is an amazing series as well. My overall list though includes everything from Avatar’s ‘Crossed’ series, to IDW’s ‘TMNT’ ongoing series.
R.K.: What inspired you to make comics?

M.D.: It’s not so much a “What” and much more of a “Who”?  Right out of the gate, It would have to begin with Image Comics in the 90’s, The energy, rebellious nature, the creativity, and all of that was so appealing to me. I didn’t really grasp all that those guys were up to, until about 8 years after the fact, but it was thrilling and inspirational. I had started drawing my own comics in Elementary school, the X-Men cartoon was hot, and it made me want to make my own comics. I used to make my mom take me to Pizza Hut (even though I HATED their pizza) just to be able to get the X-Men VHS tapes and comics they gave out with orders. However, the tipping point was when I was about 15-16 years old, my high school art teacher Mr. Leanillo got me invited to a Michael Turner event, Turner at the time was doing Witchblade, and he had this fun little seminar + signing event he did somewhere in I think Tampa. It’s been awhile. Anyway, He was so awesome, just totally excited about comics, and telling all of us about how awesome it was, and gave us so many pointers. It was enlightening, inspiring, and it changed my life in a lot of ways. It would take me about 12 years to really apply it towards comics, as life sort of led me down a different path, but I am so thankful for the day I met Michael Turner.


R.K.: What are some of the biggest challenges that you, as an indie creator, face?

M.D.: It’s funny you would ask me that, I am currently developing a series of webcasts, panels, and even a book called “The Cynically Pragmatic Guide to Creating Comics”. I think there is a big *hush* mentality to some of the serious pratfalls of doing “Indie comics”. The fact that I’ve been so lucky to work for a top ten publisher like IDW, on multiple occasions or even a more aggressively growing company like Hashtag Comics, I can say that I was able to get out of some of the more seedy trenches earlier than most.

I’d say the biggest challenges are a collective of things. The first thing is lack of real, honest information. You get a lot of guys, indie press, and artist alley “publishers”, who act like they are bigger than they are. They throw all kinds of information at you, but most of it leads to some form of helping them out in the end. There is a lot of misinformation out there on how to do it, and how to break in. I’m not saying that everyone is like that, but there are a ton of people in this scene looking to take advantage of naive, passionate creators. If you want to do this, you really have to just dedicate to doing it. Homework is critical, you must research. Google is a great tool. Secondly, I’d say finding fellow creators you can collaborate with effectively, efficiently, and within the constraints of a mutual budget. If anything, everyone should know comics cost lots of money to create. So, learn how to budget yourself accordingly. James Hudnall told me once that an artist and a writer have to basically be looked at like a marriage. You have to be able to get along, enjoy one another’s work, and be a cohesive unit until the project is done. Otherwise, you run the risk of being that book that NEVER get’s finished, is ALWAYS in development, or is swapping artists/writers out every issue.

This is such a loaded question… *laughs*

I tell you what, we can wrap up this interview and I’ll give you a whole new one based on just this question in the future? *laughs*


R.K.: You mentioned in our email exchange that you are a single father. How does that play a part in your career? When creating content, do you keep your kid(s) in mind?

M.D.: My kids are a huge part of my life, it’s not a big secret. They sometimes come to signing events or conventions with me. I usually don’t format my ideas to be best suited for kids. I have a few projects that are kid friendly, but overall my ideas are not regulated. I think it’s a shame to censor your creativity to placate to one demographic. On the other hand, I have always found a way to incorporate them in things. The Zombie Squad which is a zombie book for kids, stars characters who share my kids names and personalities. I named the town Joshua Black takes place in “Trinity” after my daughter, and then there is “Fetch”. Fetch if you didn’t know is the book I did with my then 7 year old daughter Evangeline, she created the overall concept after our dog passed away and together with my friend Derrick Fish, we ran a successful kickstarter. We’re actually working towards fulfilling that very kickstarter now.


R.K.: Speaking of kids, that brings me to a sort of personal question. Personally, I think comics are becoming too dark and too adult. They used to be for kids, but it seems like comic books “grew up” right alongside the children they were marketing to. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mature stuff. I probably wouldn’t read many of the comics I read if they weren’t mature. However, in my eyes, superheros are for children. They’re for the child in all of us, regardless of how mature we make them. I find the lack of superhero comics for children rather disturbing. My little brother loves Batman, but I’m not going to let him read it when every other issue has an explicit scene with one woman or another. Frankly, I don’t think Lil Gotham is sufficient enough. Do you, as both a father and a comic creator, identify with this? Do you think there should be more superhero comics for children?

MD: I mean, I think at a certain level yes. However, kids don’t buy comics. At the end of the day, I think comics are the perfect medium. A lot of parents I know, don’t monitor the television, they just sort of let their kids watch whatever is a cartoon without any idea of the content. I don’t think you see that in comics. I pick out comics I think my kids would enjoy. My youngest daughter reads IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on-going series. It’s a little dark and gritty, but she loves it. My 12 year old son is reading the Secret Wars stuff, I have an 11 year old daughter who is reading all the Star Wars stuff, and my 10 year old daughter is reading Prez and the 13th Doctor Who.  I think there is a happy medium though. I think for every mature title, you have books out there that can be fun. It’s more a matter of knowing where to look I think, and that is the problem. I don’t think comic shops display the kids stuff very prominently because they don’t sell. I’m sure if you asked, they could find you something, but the best bet is to flip through a preview mag and just add it to your pull list.


R.K.: Tell us about your experiences with mental illness and your work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. How do your experiences reflect onto your work?

MD: Well, I come from a family with a history of mental illness. My mother has battled depression, anxiety, and a whole plethora of other mental illness for as far back as I can remember. I’d like to point out to anyone who may be reading this that mental illness is not a cold. I didn’t just wake up with it one day. It was always there. It will always be there. It’s not a crutch, it’s not an excuse. I have something in my brain that makes the chemicals there work differently. Sometimes, too many chemicals, sometimes not enough. It can be stressful, it can be taxing, however it’s no one’s fault. Not yours, not mine.

I am diagnosed with ADHD, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder. I’d probably say the most destructive force in a person who suffers from Bipolar Disorder are themselves. My Bipolar Disorder has created much chaos for me in my life, broken friendships, relationships, and hearts. It has put me in severe states of manic behavior and it has landed me in an intensive care unit. I’ve seen the inside of a psych ward, and I’ve had the same therapist for years.

one third of all people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder are suicides. In 2002, I was almost part of that statistic. Several years later, and a ton of self discovery, therapy, and medication. I now push to help others. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great charity. They diligently work to help us all understand the what and why. They are using their donations to fund scientific research, advanced education and awareness to professionals in the mental health field, raising awareness and information for the public about these disorders, they advocate to legislators to promote suicide prevention efforts, and most importantly, they provide resources to families affected by the loss of a loved one due to suicide.

I always write from experience in some way. I draw from that to give my characters life. I’m not one of those “this character is a reflection of me” people, but I do put a piece of myself in a lot of characters. ‘Joshua Black’ battles depression, I had a scrapped script we were working on where he actually contemplates suicide. My editors thought it was too much, but I may eventually release it anyway. I think people need to know the dark side of this illness, otherwise we will keep losing loved ones to it.


R.K.: You mentioned the #DeathToFanboys movement. What is it and why did you start it?

MD:  #DeathToFanboys is basically fighting the negative stigma brought on by elitist fans. The whole concept started back in like 2012 and was coined by me on the CAE Podcast with Shawn Talley. We were talking about how a friend of ours wife had went into a comic shop and had tried to buy a Batman book, but was basically given the riot act by an employee because her entire knowledge of the character was based on cartoons and film. So, I was like “Don’t be such an asshole, don’t be a fanboy… death to fanboys!” It sort of became a hashtag and then a bigger thing. Now I do a webcast on youtube with the same title and interview pros in the industry and ask them “what do you hate about the fanboy mentality.” You can find it here.

About Project: APEX and the Future

R.K.: Did Blizzard Entertainment approach you to discuss re-branding your comic?

M.D.: As much as I’d like to divulge the who’s and the what’s of this, I’m legally not able to comment on how it came about. In the end, we both had a property that had the same name and similar concepts. The agreement we struck was beneficial to both parties. Blizzard was very cool, and it was an honor to be able to work with them on this whole thing. Who knows, maybe if enough fan support kicks in, they will ask us to come do the comic for their “Overwatch”. *laughs*


R.K.: As an indie creator, it is often difficult to attract readers to superhero stories because indie readers usually look for non-superhero stories and stories that are out-of-the-ordinary. They usually stick to the Big Two for superhero stories. What makes Project: APEX different from other superhero stories?

M.D.: Well, APEX isn’t really a “superhero” story. The exterior comes off that way, but it’s much more a political thriller. The concept is very much a “Watchmen” meets “The Bourne Identity”. We had one editor call it the “Game of Thrones” of superhero stories.

The entire concept of ‘Project: APEX’ is more about a revolution. These “heroes” are celebrities, they are aligned with a corrupted government, and they have basically been this celebrated global police force for years. The world they inhabit is much like something you’d find in a Phillip K. Dick novel and less something you’d see popping out of the mind of Stan Lee.  With all this power though, all this praise, and elevated status, they feel that maybe they deserve to be treated more like rulers, maybe even Gods, and less like Government servants.

When I began coming up with the concept for this story, before Javier even jumped on board. I had decided early on that our initial team would be very much archetypes of popular characters. My hope was to drop a reader right into this global conflict, and not have to go into all the backstory right off the bat. I am not a fan of origin stories, and I felt like this would be much more interesting to leave the readers wanting to know more about these characters, but also feel like they know them already.

The story has layers, the characters have layers, it’s not a punch in the face every other page book. It makes the reader think. It has a mature outlook, a mature concept, we pull no punches. It carries on as if it were a rated-M, HBO series. It definitely is not a comic I’d let a kid read. NC-17 is even pushing it. *laugh*


R.K.: If you could describe Project: APEX with one word, what would it be?

M.D.: I guess I’d have to say “Inspired”. The story is very inspired. It carries a lot of inspiration. It has so much of what Javier and myself love about all forms of storytelling. It has a little bit of everything and we think it blends very well.


R.K.: What were some advantages of the re-branding? Disadvantages?

M.D.: *sigh* in a perfect world, re-branding wouldn’t be necessary. It’s not to say we don’t have advantages here, or that we don’t love the new name. I guess it just comes down to the amount of work we’d already put into the name “Overwatch”. 

The advantages first and foremost is the exposure the project now has thanks to the deal with Blizzard. I mean, we couldn’t ask for a better boost of PR. Blizzard really did give us a nice little bump in activity. The fact that we sold out of a lot of our ‘Overwatch’ merchandise at Tampa Bay Comic Con was a testament to that. It also gives us a chance to kind of re-evaluate the project a little. As a creator, you always wanna tweak or change things later. This gives us that ability. We can go in and sort of rework the issues a bit. Update some of the art, and re-pitch it to publishers who may take an interest now that it’s associated with the largest video game company in the world.

The disadvantages honestly are just the amount of work we have ahead of us over the next 6 months. We’ve barely begun our restructuring. We have to order all new merchandise, as we have a window of time before we are no longer allowed to use the name. We have to redo our entire web presence, have new convention materials made, such as banners and flyers. It’s a ton of work. The other thing is our kickstarter. This whole thing held us up horribly with our Kickstarter rewards. We were unable to tell our backers what was going on, and at the same time we were unable to send out those rewards for fear of a lawsuit. Thankfully, we reached an agreement with Blizzard and we were able to move forward and can finally get the ball rolling again.


R.K.: Would you ever work with Blizzard on future projects? Or, would you ever be interested in working with other comic book publishers outside of CAE Studios?

MD: I would totally be up for working with them. They are probably the largest video game companies in the world, and I am a huge fan of some of their properties. As for other publishers, I’m always game to new projects with new publishers. I had a blast working for Hashtag Comics on ‘Carpe Noctem’ (Issue’s 1-4 in stores now, 5 and 6 coming soon, pre-order at your LCS)  I’ve already worked with IDW Publishing and that was an amazing experience, and I have a few other projects with some different publishers coming out that I’m not allowed to divulge. So, yeah, always.


R.K.: Speaking of CAE, the company publishes several other comics. What other projects do you work on?

MD: I pretty much work on everything at CAE Studios in some form or fashion. Currently, we are prepping the release of issue’s 5-8 of Joshua Black, we have a 5 issue arc planned for Project: A.P.E.X., and I’m working on #IFightGhosts, and a new series by creator Tim Fling called “Socket”. I’m always working on something.


R.K.: Do you ever plan on working other types of entertainment media outside of comics? Which one of your comics do you think would best adapt to cinema?

MD: It’s funny you would mention that, we’re currently working on adapting #IFightGhosts into a cartoon as we have been in talks with a network about the project. Obviously, no further details are allowed but we are super excited about that. I think ‘Joshua Black’ would be an amazing television series. It has all the elements of say a ‘Buffy’ or ‘Supernatural’. As for a live action film… I’m not really sure. Maybe Zombie Squad, that could be interesting.


R.K.: You’ve mentioned conventions. Which cons do you go to? Where will we see you next?

MD: I try to hit as many cons as my schedule will allow, I’m usually always at Megacon in Orlando, I do and Tampa Bay Comic Con religiously. I fell in love with C2E2 this year, so I’ll be doing that show again. I did over 20 cons this past year, and almost 40 in 2014. I don’t know when this article will hit, but I’ll be doing Space Coast Comic Con next. It’s the weekend of September 11th to the 13th.


R.K.: What do you like most about cons? What do you dislike? Do you think cosplayers are getting too much hate these days?

MD: I love cons for the most part. I love the atmosphere and the people. I get to network, I get to talk to my readers. I get to talk with fellow creators and legendary pros who I admire and learn from. I get feedback, I get to do panels, I love cons. As for dislikes, I believe cons are situational, I’ve been to Chicago and C2E2 and saw what a grand spectacle they can be, what a good con can look like… Then I’ve been to cons where I felt like I wasn’t in on a joke. The flea market con if you will. The one where no one told anyone to show up. I’ve been a special guest at a show where I saw no one but friends I knew in the industry… The second part of that is I think cons are one of those “one guy can ruin it for everyone” things. I’ve had cons where people have just ruined my entire weekend by being a rude neighbor, or a shitty guest. I have had cons ruined by the con personnel themselves. Cosplayers are an iffy subject… I was reading this interview by Dana White recently and he stated that “Try to say anything today without pissing people off. Try it. I mean anything you say people get mad…”  I know that if I voice my opinions on the topic it will get twisted, but in a nutshell… I think THEY are becoming too much. I don’t mean the casual cosplayer mind you, I don’t mean the kids who put all that love and fantastic art into making such a cool thing. I respect the shit outta those kids. I admire them. It’s the “one guy can ruin it for everyone” people. The ones who are demanding pay for pics, when they are just ticket buyers walking the floor, It’s the rude ones who just set their props on my table to snap a pic while blocking traffic to my table, it’s the ones who are rude and disrespectful to others. I’m beginning to see a lot more of them than I am comfortable to admit.


R.K.: We’ve heard about what happened at Tampa Bay and the Westboro Baptist Church. Thoughts?

MD: *laughs* Yeah… Those guys are fun. In a nutshell, someone sent them a copy of ‘Joshua Black’ and they apparently read it. They weren’t too happy with me about it and so they had some local members (I think that’s what they were” show up and try to picket us. I thought it was hilarious, they only helped me we sold out of Joshua Black comics that weekend.




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